Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Anna Sands O'Shea, 1852-1937

By Teresa Kepes, undergraduate student, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Anna Sands O'Shea was an activist and suffragist from the age of sixteen until women won the right to vote in 1920. Born to Elizabeth and James McAvoy in Haverstraw, New York in 1852, she met and married Edward L. O'Shea in 1871. She and Edward had four children: Loretta, Elinor, Edward, and Ambrose.

O'Shea's most notable participation in the suffrage movement came from her work in New York City with the St. Catherine's Welfare Association, a Catholic women's organization. O'Shea played a major role in establishing the group and organized the first meeting, held on Jan 7, 1911 at the Covenant of Peace, 225 West Fourteenth St. in New York City. O'Shea served as the organization's vice-president in 1917.

O'Shea actively engaged in the group's effort to spread the support of enfranchisement to women. The women of St. Catherine's Welfare Association rejected the general policy of the Catholic Church opposing women's enfranchisement, instead viewing it as their mission to change that policy. The greatest opponent standing in their way was Baltimore's Cardinal Gibbons, who had publicly pledged support for the anti-suffragist movement. The women of St. Catherine's Welfare Association actively tried to sway his stand with petitions and letters. Then, on February 14, 1917, a delegation of women from the Association, including O'Shea, traveled from New York to Baltimore to personally meet with the cardinal and present their arguments face-to-face. The delegates held that women's gain of the vote would not affect their roles as good Catholic women.

O'Shea also worked for suffrage at the grassroots level at St. Catherine's Welfare Association. She helped organize some of the many public speeches that the association began hosting from its beginning in 1911 until after women won the right to vote. Most of these speeches were given by professors and clergymen and were held in the basement of the All Saint's Roman Catholic Church, at Madison Avenue and 129th Street. These speeches were often attended by large numbers of the clergy who came to show support for women's enfranchisement. In addition, they also opened a dialogue between the members of St. Catherine's Welfare Association and other members of male Catholic organizations.

After she had gained her right to the ballot, O'Shea continued political engagement. Anna served as an alternate delegate from the Thirteenth Assembly District to the New York Democratic Convention in 1922. In addition, she co-wrote and signed a statement in support of Mrs. Sara McPike, the president of St. Catherine's Welfare Association, when she ran as a delegate to the National Democratic convention in 1923.

Anna Sands O'Shea died on February 28, 1937 at her home in Forest Hills, Queens.


"Priest for Suffragists." New York Times (1857-1922), Apr 30, 1914.

"Catholic Suffrage Work." New York Times (1857-1922), May 17, 1913.

"Mrs. Anna S. O‘Shea." New York Times (1923-Current file): 19. Mar 01 1937. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2018 .

"Sees Suffrage Fight as Part of Prgoress." New York Times (1857-1922), May 19, 1913.

"Miss McPike Appointed." New York Times (1923-Current File), February 08, 1923.

“For Catholic Suffragists.” New York Times (1857-1922), March 12, 1916.

"Suffrage Plea to Gibbons." New York Times (1857-1922), February 14, 1917.

Chapter XXXI: New York. In History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6:1900-1920, edited by Ida Husted Harper. (New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922). pp. 440-489. [LINK]

“Official Roll of New York State Democratic Convention," Syracuse-Herald, September 27 1922, 14.

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